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Giving is the Most Natural Thing in the World

By Drs. Rick and Jan Hanson

page 4 of 4

In sum, over three or four million years, the groups of hominid ancestors that developed giving, generosity, and cooperation to a fine art were the ones that survived to pass down the genes that are our endowment today. As a result, we are "born and bred" to want to give, to contribute, to make a difference.

When Generosity is Thwarted
One way to see the centrality of that impulse in the human experience is to observe what happens when it's thwarted:

  • On the job, even well-paid workers who feel they lack ways to contribute and add value have much less job satisfaction.

  • In mid-life, when the developmental task of what Erik Erikson called "generativity" (versus "stagnation") is not fulfilled, depression and a sense of aimlessness are the result.

  • In adolescence today, getting shunted off to quasi-reservations of high schools and malls - away from the world of adult work that was the natural province of teenagers throughout most human history - breeds a sense of alienation and irrelevance that in turn fosters poor motivation and a predilection for drugs and other risky behaviors. One reason so many adolescents are angry is that there's no way for them to be useful.

In Conclusion
So, have faith that your son will appreciate more and more the rewards of sharing and giving, cooperation and generosity. In the beginning, the rewards will take the form mainly of enlightened self-interest in the rough-and-tumble real world of children, boiling down to: "If I scratch your back after you scratch mine, probably you'll scratch mine again." Over time, the rewards will naturally become more internalized, more emotional, and more abstracted, evolving into a quiet, almost unnoticed pleasure in simply being a good person. Like everyone else, deep down, in the whole wide world.


* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 16 and 19. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and second authors of Mother Nurture: A Motherís Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or comments at info@nurturemom.com; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be possible.

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